Home Modification Project in Syria Brings Hope to Palestine Refugees with Disabilities

09 June 2023
welcomes Prafulla Mishra (2nd from left), the Deputy Director of UNRWA Affairs in Syria, and other UNRWA staff members to his home in Sbeineh Camp. © 2023 UNRWA Photo

A thoughtful home modification project developed jointly by UNRWA and UNDP has proven to be life-changing for scores of Palestine refugees in Syria with a disability. Among them is Khaled Qasem from Sbeineh refugee camp in southern Damascus. Fully paralyzed from the waist down following a surgery gone wrong, the confirmation that he qualified for modifications to his home was the first good news he had received in years: “I felt extremely happy and excited,” he recalls.

At the start of the war, Khaled and his family were displaced to Sahnaya Collective Center in Damascus. When they returned to their home in Sbeineh five years later, they found it completed looted and devoid and any of life’s basic essentials.  It was at this time that Khaled had to undergo the spinal surgery that would forever change his life.

On account of his situation, Khaled was eligible for the UNRWA/UNDP self-help home modification project for persons living with a disability.  When contacted by an UNRWA social worker about his requirements, Khaled prioritized the installation of a bathroom that was adapted for his special needs. The modifications included a western toilet seat, handrails and a shower. Khaled is now able to use the bathroom independently, without relying on anybody’s help.

“I feel more comfortable now that I no longer need help when I want to use the bathroom. Without UNRWA support, it would have taken me more than 25 years to modify my bathroom in a way that improves my access and preserves my dignity,” explained Khaled, visibly content with this solution. He added, “There are many persons in the camp living with a disability. Their lives are more difficult than ours. UNRWA should also support these people with whatever assistance that can be provided.”



(24), second from left) and her father share a modest, unfinished home in Khan Dannoun camp near Damascus. © 2023 UNRWA Photo
(24), second from left) and her father share a modest, unfinished home in Khan Dannoun camp near Damascus. © 2023 UNRWA Photo

Like Khaled, Amal Shehadeh (24) also asked for the installation of an accessible bathroom when given the opportunity. Amal was born with paraplegia in both legs, greatly limiting her mobility.   Her modest, unfinished home in Khan Dannoun camp near Damascus did not have an actual bathroom, which presented a huge challenge for Amal. The small space they had doubled as both a toilet and a shower.

“Taking a shower and using the bathroom was always really difficult for me,” she recalls. “Thanks to the modifications facilitated by UNRWA, I can handle all my bathroom needs independently and safely. I never imagined that, in my life, my house would be modified to help me cope with my disability.”  

This joint UNRWA/UNDP home modification project for persons with a disability was kicked off in July 2022 and concluded in February 2023. During this time, 107 Palestine refugees in Damascus, Aleppo, Hama and Lattakia benefitted from modifications to their homes to help them with the challenges they face in their daily lives. 

“The living conditions of most Palestine refugees in Syria is extremely challenging and unhealthy. Many live in cramped houses with poor ventilation, un-plastered walls, floors that are not cemented and, many times, just covered with mats and blankets,” observed Prafulla Mishra, the Deputy Director of UNRWA Affairs in Syria. “Yet, we are immensely encouraged when UNRWA’s support, like this project, can have a positive impact on lives,” he continued.

Khaled and his family are very grateful to UNRWA for the services it provides to Palestine Refugees, in general, and to people living with a disability, in particular. "It’s a dream come true! I am grateful to UNRWA for the tremendous change this project made to my life.  I wish that this initiative could be extended unconditionally to all people with disability and without exceptions,” Khaled noted.